Quotas Help No One

April 2003

In his 1994 book Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, Neil Bissoondath a Canadian of Trinidadian background - offered a stinging indictment of preferential hiring programs aimed at visible minorities. "As a member of one of those targeted racial minorities, I can think of few things more demeaning to me than to be offered an advantage because of my skin colour," he wrote. "It is demeaning because, no matter what I have struggled to achieve, I am still being judged on the colour of my skin and not simply as a human being with strengths and weaknesses. I am still, even with the best of intentions, being viewed racially and that is offensive to me."

Mr. Bissondath was correct: Hiring quotas that lower the standards for female and minority applicants are an offence to the very people they purport to help. Well intentioned though they may be, they falsely suggest that all women, blacks and Indians should be judged by a lower standard because they are unable to live up to the standards set by white males. In addition, of course, they are grossly prejudicial toward those same white males in that they deny opportunities to them on the basis of race or gender a clear cut case of discrimination.

Though the federal government has yet to abandon its "employment equity" programs, other governments seem to have lost their enthusiasm, most notably the government of Ontario, which stopped forcing affirmative action on the province's corporations in the mid '90s. But heavy handed racial and sex preference programs are still very much in vogue especially at academic institutions.

This month, the University of Victoria's School of Child and Youth Care began advertising for a new assistant professor. But there is a catch: Only native Canadians need apply. "In accordance with the University's Equity Plan and pursuant to Section 42 of the B.C. Human Rights code," the ad explains, "the selection will be limited to aboriginal peoples. Candidates from this group are encouraged to self identify."

While this may be an extreme example in that it explicitly excludes more than 95% of the Canadian population, it is not an isolated one. For the past five years, British Columbia's government has allowed provincial universities to enact various equity plans to increase participation by visible minorities, abori-ginals, women and the disabled. Not coincidentally, discriminatory hiring appears to have grown considerably more prevalent. In 2001, Doreen Kimura, a visiting professor in the psychology department of Simon Fraser University, conducted a survey on the hiring rates of men and women at two B.C. universities. She found that while women accounted for 29% of applicants, they accounted for 41% of those hired. Ms. Kimura subsequently concluded that in some cases, it appeared women had been hired over better qualified men.

In Ontario, as well, universities continue to place far too much attention on race and gender not just in hiring practices (as when Wilfrid Laurier's Department of Psychology attempted to "address a gender imbalance" in 1999 by considering only female applicants for a faculty position), but in the student admissions process. The majority of Ontario law schools have a special "Aboriginal" category under which applicants are subjected to less-rigorous standards, and several complement this with an additional "access" category for minority group members who claim to have faced discrimination or other "systemic" disadvantages. In some cases, the discrepancy in standards would surely strike even affirmative action advocates as absurd; at York University's Osgoode Hall law school, aboriginal applicants are required only to achieve a Law School Admission Test score in the 26th percentile or better to be considered i.e., a standard so low that it excludes only the worst performing 25 out of every 100 test takers. Non minority students, on the other hand, are typically expected to score in the top 25%. If the Osgoode Hall playing field were level, any professional recruiter who exhibited a general bias toward the school's non aboriginal graduates would properly be deemed a racist. But under the current scheme, such a preference would seem entirely rational.

We do not dispute that it is a noble goal for Canadian universities to be reflective of our country's demographics, both in terms of faculty and the student body. But under no circumstances should this be achieved through heavy handed programs that reward race, ethnicity or gender over merit. While these programs may help university administrators meet their quota numbers, they also imbue women and minorities with the stigma of inferiority.

Editorial, National Post, March 17, 2003.

Dumb Quotas

Re: Quotas Help No One, editorial, March 17.

Ever wonder how the stereotype of the "dumb jock" got started? It is not because there is a negative correlation between intelligence and athleticism in general. If anything, there is a slight positive correlation, in fact.

The stereotype began when colleges started admitting students on athletic scholarships who would not qualify on academic merit alone. Consequently, the students with the lowest academic aptitude in any given class were most likely to be the "jocks," and everyone saw this.

Blinded by ideology, the promoters of preferential policies do not see the implications of this same selection mechanism for the female and visible-minority students they recruit, or faculty they hire. Instead, they bleat about the "prejudice" in others, which they themselves do everything in their power to create. Contrary to what is said in the editorial, there is no "nobility" in any of this.

Grant A. Brown

Letter to the Editor, National Post, March 18, 2003.

Grant A. Brown is currently a member of SAFS Board of Directors.

Defending Quotas

Re: Quotas Help No One, editorial, March 17.

Your editorial criticizes Osgoode Hall Law School and other law schools for having a special admissions category for aboriginal students. It is now so difficult to get into law school that very few aboriginal students would get in. This is because they typically lack the traditional academic preparation that non-aboriginal students have received. And yet it is surely important that aboriginal people have access to law school, so that they can become lawyers and judges.

In fact, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressly recognizes that programs to assist certain disadvantaged groups should be continued, as a means of addressing historic discrimination and broadening access for all.

That is the reason for our special admissions category for aboriginals students. Once admitted, however, they have to meet exactly the same standards as everyone else. At the Osgoode Hall Law School. This year, out of 870 LLB students, only 14 are aboriginal. We would prefer to increase that number rather than to reduce it.

Peter W. Hogg, Dean, Osgoode Hall Law School; Patrick J. Monahan, Associate Dean and Dean-designate, Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto.

Letter to the Editor, National Post, March 19, 2003